Alan Biggs’ Derby Column: The key men who I feel could influence the game for Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United - and who I’m tipping to win the Steel City Derby at Hillsborough
Gary Madine. One name alone is enough to stir this Sheffield derby build-up to fever pitch.
But the real fascination and unpredictability of this one is the extra dynamics in both camps that go way beyond the pantomime villain/hero figure who is a magnet for every emotion.
The former Sheffield Wednesday striker is among several new dimensions to Chris Wilder’s Blades. And the Owls, too, have elements of surprise.
Besides a new leader in Steve Bruce, there is the much-needed pace and athleticism of Rolando Aarons and Dominic Iorfa, two impressive January recruits. Achraf Lazaar would have graced the derby too but for his hamstring injury, though the “change in mental attitude” hailed by Bruce is very much intact.
As for United, Scott Hogan is an added and proven strike option while the very talented Kieran Dowell is setting a selection challenge for Mark Duffy, the September ‘17 Hillsborough matchwinner and until recently arguably Wilder’s most influential player.
And who, even a few weeks ago, would have predicted Martin Cranie’s threat to Chris Basham’s overlapping centre back role or the redeployed Enda Stevens possibly barring a return from injury for Jack O’Connell on the other side?
From being a team that virtually picked itself, United are achieving the manager’s aim of more flexibility in personnel and formation.
All reasons for Wednesday being underdogs on their own patch. Which, of course, could work to their advantage.
Most important of all, there is a new mood around Hillsborough, a feeling of a club on the turn with fans rallying around manager and team.
And who does this sound like in approach to the game? “To play with more intensity. To get after the ball rather than sitting off. Not let the opposition play from the back.”
It could have been Wilder setting the tone at the start of his Blades reign. In fact, it was Bruce after a second successive convincing home win in midweek, completing a sixth game unbeaten on his watch and seventh for Wednesday overall.
United, meanwhile, are on the crest of form that has been consistently good virtually all season - since, incredibly enough, losing the first two.
All of these factors are in the melting pot for Monday night in the cauldron of S6. Two excellent managers, not greatly varying in approach, both naturally positive on how the game should be played.
The headline dreamed up in advance is seldom the reality. But that many of these will focus on Madine is inescapable. For some, a script already written - either in fear or fervour in both camps.
Wilder’s deployment of Madine, whether starting or on from the bench, is in question. Much less so, that he’ll play a part in the drama.
And drama it will be, potentially unfolding with twists and turns that are impossible to predict.
I have 50p with a couple of mates on United - but that would only recoup what I lost at the Lane in November!